Nixies Adorn A Cold War Relic To Make A Geiger Clock

Say what you will about the centrally planned economies of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, but their designs had a brutal style all their own. When one comes across an artifact from that time, like a defunct Polish Geiger counter from 1971, one celebrates that style the only way possible: by sticking Nixies tubes on it and making it into a Geiger clock.

Right off the hop, we’ve got to say that we’re in love with the look of [Tom Sparrow]’s build. And we’ll further stipulate that most of the charm comes from the attractive Bakelite case of the original Geiger counter. This looks like the real deal, with the marbleized look presumably caused by different color resins mixing in the mold. [Tom] did an admirable job bringing back the original shine with some polish and elbow grease; no doubt the decades had taken their toll on the original shine. The meter was gutted to make room for the clockworks, which is an off-the-shelf Nixie module. The tubes stick through holes drilled in the top; a pair of LEDs adorn the front panel and an incandescent bulb provides a warm glow behind the original meter. Combined with the original rotary switch and labels, the whole thing has a great look that’s perfect for a desk.

We’ve featured a lot of retro-classic Nixie builds, from digitizing a 1940s radio to a 1970s multimeter turned into a dice-roller. As for Nixie clocks, we’re just glad to take a break from the Nixie steampunk trend for a bit.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Relive The Glory Days Of Cable TV With This Retro Weather Feed

This may surprise younger readers, but there was once a time when the reality programming on The Weather Channel was simply, you know, weather. It used to be no more than a ten-minute wait to “Local on the Eights”, with simple text crawls of local conditions and forecasts that looked like they were taken straight from the National Weather Service feed.┬áThose were the days, and sadly they seem to be gone forever.

Or perhaps not, if this retro weather channel feed has anything to say about it. It’s the product of [probnot] and consists of a simple Python program that runs on a Raspberry Pi. Being from Winnipeg, [probnot] is tapping into Environment Canada for local weather data, but it should be easy enough to modify to use your local weather provider’s API. The screen is full of retro goodness, from the simple color scheme to the blocky white text; the digital clock and local news crawl at the bottom complete the old school experience. It doesn’t appear that the code supports the period-correct smooth jazz saxophone, but that too should be a simple modification.

All jibing aside, this would be a welcome addition to the morning routine. And for the full retro ride, why not consider putting it in an old TV case?

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Simplify Your Life With This Pocket Rotary Cellphone

With its constant siren song of distraction and endless opportunity for dopamine hits, a smartphone can cause more problems than it solves. The simple solution would be a no-nonsense flip phone, but that offers zero points for style. So why not build your own rotary dial pocket cellphone?

Of course, what style points accrue to [Justine Haupt] take a hit in terms of practicality, but that was never really the point of this build. And even then, the phone appears to be surprisingly useful. It’s based on the rotary dial from a Trimline phone, which itself was an epic hack back in 1965 when it was introduced. The 3D-printed case contains an ATmega2560V microcontroller and an Adafruit FONA 3G cell module, while a flexible mono eInk display adorns the outside. Some buttons, a folding SMA antenna, and some LEDs for signal strength and battery level complete the build, which easily slips into a pocket. The dial can be used not only to dial the phone but to control the speaker volume; in practice, [Justine] mainly uses the speed dial buttons to make calls, though.

We’ve seen rotary phones converted to cell before, but this one is a next-level integration of the retro and the modern. It’s simple, intuitive, and distraction-free, and best of all, it’s a great excuse not to return a text.

Thanks to [J. Peterson] for the tip.

Fallout-Inspired Clock Radio Helps You Party Like It’s 2077

Since its first release seven years ago, Raspberry Pi single-board computers have become notoriously ubiquitous in compact and portable builds. They’re used in many different applications, but one of the most interesting has got to be how it can turn just about any old thing into a Linux computer. [xito666] writes in with his own build, a portable retro computer inspired by the retro-futuristic stylings of the Fallout games.

For true aesthetic accuracy, [xito666] used an old discarded Crown 5TV-65R portable TV and radio combo. The unit hails from the 1970s, so a bit newer than Vault technology, but it still gives off a great retro charm with its CRT screen and knobs. Sadly, the original components couldn’t be reused, and the shell was stripped empty so that the new hardware could take its place. This includes an off-the-shelf HDMI LCD screen with resistive touchscreen and new potentiometers and knobs that still fit in with the overall look of the machine.

What makes this build unique, however, is that it also includes custom software to turn it into a clock and music player, with the deliciously Pip Boy-like UI being controlled entirely with the front buttons and knobs. The whole project is well written up in the Reddit post, in it [xito666] explains some of their choices and planned improvements. One that we would suggest ourselves is replacing the menu scrolling selector dial with a rotary encoder rather than a potentiometer, for that added knob feel. We also think that with the addition of a keyboard, it would easily pass for one of those luggables from the 1980s, a style of project we’ve featured once or twice here before.

COSMAC ELF Lives Again, In FPGA

Looking around at the personal computing markets in modern times, there seem to be a lot of choices in the market. In reality, though, almost everything runs on hardware from a very small group of companies, and software is often available across platforms. This wasn’t the case in the personal computing boom of the 70s and 80s, where different computers were wildly different in hardware and even architecture. The Cosmac ELF was one of the more interesting specimens from this era, and this one has been meticulously reproduced on an FPGA.

The original hardware was based on an RCA 1802 microprocessor and had a rudimentary (by today’s standards) set of switches and buttons as the computer’s inputs. It was low cost, even for the time, but was one of the first single-board computers available. This recreation is coded in SpinalHDL and the simplicity of the original hardware makes it relatively easy to understand. The FPGA is cycle-accurate to the original hardware, too, which makes it nearly perfect even without any of the original hardware.

The project’s creator, [Winston] aka [wel97459], found that SpinalHDL made this project fun to work on (and released his code on his GitHub page), and was able to get the code down to just 1500 lines to recreate the original hardware. It’s very impressive, and also an accessible read for anyone interested in some of the more unique computers offered during the early computer renaissance in the 70s.

Flip Phones Are Making A Comeback

If you’re the kind of person who hates this new generation of smartphone users and longs for a nostalgic past, you’re not far from the new target demographic for many commercial phone manufacturers. Major phone companies like Motorola and Huawei have been developing foldable versions of conventional smartphone designs, intended to be more versatile while maintaining the same functionality as their less flexible counterparts.

It’s certainly gimmicky, but phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the Motorola Razr, and the Huawei MateX are elegant from an engineering perspective. Developing a seamless interface experience, maximizing surface area for functionality, and maintaining the same nostalgic flip phone aesthetic while making use of familiar smartphone features isn’t an easy design process.

Motorola RAZR hinge shown by CNET’s Patrick Holland during a tour of their labs.

For the Razr, a hinge system that takes up about a third of the phone’s internal space allows the OLED display to have no noticeable binder line. Rather than curving like a piece of paper, it forms a teardrop shape that prevents the screen from creasing and being damaged. Springs and pistons below the surface move small places underneath where the user will be tapping – folded in, the plates slide away. It’s an interesting effect, although as you can see in the banner image, it doesn’t quite achieve optically flat perfection.

In order to ensure that the screen doesn’t overheat as it bends, it is made up of microlayers sandwiched together. To balance weight, the circuits and battery is split into two, operating on each half of the device, an unusual design choice for smartphones. Placement of the array of radios and antennas is also a challenge since they can’t be too close to each other or the processor, which can interfere with signal transmission.

Other devices like the Royale Flexpai are more so proof-of-concepts making use of flexible screens and batteries, rather than capturing the aesthetics of a flip phone generation — but who doesn’t want their smartphone to unfold into a tablet when needed? The future of smartphone technology is looking interesting, and we’ll be sure to see even more iterations of flexible displays in the near future.

Foam Board, Old Electronics, And Imagination Make Movie Magic

When it comes to building sets and props for movies and TV, it’s so easy to get science fiction wrong – particularly with low-budget productions. It must be tempting for the set department to fall back on the “get a bunch of stuff and paint it silver” model, which can make for a tedious experience for the technically savvy in the audience.

But low-budget does not necessarily mean low production values if the right people are involved. Take [Joel Hartlaub]’s recent work building sets for a crowdfunded sci-fi film called Infinitus. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that needed an underground bunker with a Fallout vibe to it, and [Joel] jumped at the chance to hack the sets together. Using mainly vintage electronic gear and foam insulation boards CNC-routed into convincing panels, he built nicely detailed control consoles for the bunker. A voice communicator was built from an old tube-type table radio case with some seven-segment displays, and the chassis of an old LCD projector made a convincing portable computer terminal. The nicest hack was for the control panel of the airlock door. That used an old TDD, or telecommunications device for the deaf. With a keyboard and a VFD display, it fit right into the feel of the set. But [Joel] went the extra mile to make it a practical piece, by recording the modulated tones from the acoustic coupler and playing them back, to make it look as if a message was coming in. The airlock door looks great too.

Like many hacks, it’s pretty impressive what you can accomplish with a deep junk pile and a little imagination. But if you’ve got a bigger budget and you need some computer displays created, we know just the person for the job.

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